The Third Leader: Eccentric art

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The Independent Online

Great disappointment in the Third Leader Department after a British Psychological Society sports workshop on the mental pressures faced by goalkeepers was cancelled yesterday, as we were looking forward to a discussion of the popular belief that you have to be short of a crossbar to covet a position which emphasises difference and leaves the holder exposed, solitary and anxious.

Some have claimed this is an attitude peculiar to this country. Elsewhere, a famous keeper once argued, "the crack goalie... vies with the matador and the flying ace as an object of thrilled adulation... [but]... in the England of my youth, the national dread of showing off and a too grim preoccupation with solid teamwork were not conducive to the development of the goalie's eccentric art".

Certainly, the flamboyance usually displayed by England's goalkeeping heroes (not a classification available in Scotland) is best demonstrated by the fascination with David Seaman's ponytail. Most of our goalkeepers today are foreign, and even before that they had to have foreign names, like Bonetti or Macedo. The greatest eccentric, Willie Foulkes, of Sheffield United and Chelsea, who weighed more than 22 stone, ended up in a sideshow at Blackpool.

Much to contemplate, then, as you try to keep warm between the coats because no one wanted to pick you. But there are consolations. The name of the disgruntled one above, for example, was Vladimir Nabokov. Other distinguished custodians include Albert Camus, existentialist, Niels Bohr, physicist, Arthur Conan Doyle, who kept goal for Portsmouth mysteriously under the name of A C Smith, and the last Pope. Proof, if it were needed, that being exposed, solitary and anxious does rather tend to concentrate the mind.

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